On the Evolution of Social Meditation

by Vince Fakhoury Horn​

Although the Buddhist tradition contains a vast quantity of examples of interpersonal meditation practice, most don't understand themselves as such. What I mean by that, is that the Buddhist texts I'm familiar with don't have this self-reflexive mental model they employ, whereby they differentiate between individual & social forms of practice. Certainly, there are examples of both kinds of meditation happening in the Buddhist tradition–both of the wandering monk meditating by themselves–the archetypal example is the Buddha himself–and of the communal monastery of monks, gathered together, living closely in a community of practice. Both poles, from individual-to-social, have always been represented in the tradition, but what has been added in the Western Enlightenment are the conceptual & linguistic tools needed to point out this distinction and leverage it further. We also have the benefit, living in the internet age, of understanding ourselves as being co-constructed by the networks we participate in, rather than being an isolated individual.

One of my earliest exposures to a form of meditation which explicitly understood itself as social, was Gregory Kramer's Insight Dialogue. Here's the original Buddhist Geeks Dialogue I had with Gregory, about Insight Dialogue, recorded in 2007.

A few years later, one of my close teachers, Kenneth Folk, began to go through a creative phase of developing teachings around what he called Social Meditation. He also coined the term Social Noting to describe the techniques that were inspired by the original Mahasi Noting Method, aka "mental noting."

The following talk is one of my earliest public takes on the background, structure, benefits, and evolution of Social Meditation.

I see much of my work as building on this fundamental idea of social meditation as being inherently part of what makes us human.

"We are human primates. We are social in our very bones." - Kenneth Folk

Putting it in more provocative terms I'd say that we need to Stop Practicing Anti-Social Meditation and recognize the inherent relationality of life itself!

More On the term "Social Noting"

Taking this into account we could say that social noting describes

1) The translation of traditional meditation techniques from the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage to an out-loud social practice context–See: Freestyle Noting.

In his original article on Social Meditation, Kenneth Folk writes:

"In its simplest form, social meditation is Mahasi Sayadaw-style choiceless vipassana done aloud while taking turns."

2) The development of new forms of out-loud noting-style practices–ex. Binary Noting, Single Parameter Noting, Essence Noting, There is Noting, Noting is Like This, & Just Noting, Just Sitting.

Basically, I see Social Noting as a family of Social Meditation techniques. I denote a belonging to that family by including the term "Noting" in the techniques I name (ex. "Noting is Like This", or "Just Noting, Just Sitting").

After learning the practice and facilitation of Social Noting from Kenneth, and sharing the methods for several years, I found that I began to have a growing confidence in the methods and in how they work. At this point I began to become more experimental, starting to translate over other traditional Buddhist practices into the social arena, such as with Social Breath Counting

Here's my own background on Social Meditation, Social Noting, what it means to make practice social, and what the benefits of doing so are.